Two of the NFC’s favorites will face each other in Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints, expected to win the NFC South, and the Arizona Cardinals, a favorite in the very strong West division, will match up with each other on the league’s first Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arians has quietly put together one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the NFL taking the Cardinals to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. Arians was named the league’s Coach of the Year as a result. What is even more impressive about the Cardinals success last year is that they did it playing three quarterbacks. Hopefully, they don’t have to do that again. Carson Palmer returns healthy after a knee injury ended his 2014 season prematurely. Even with a healthy Palmer behind center, New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds only favor the home team by just a field goal (-2½) with the over/under total at 48.
Looking past the season opener, Arians and the Cardinals will need Palmer to stay healthy because the drop-off to No. 2 QB Drew Stanton is noticeable. Arizona upgraded the offensive line by adding Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati to help ensure that Palmer plays all 16 games. Running back Andre Ellington returns after an injury as well and the Arizona running game will also help take pressure off of Palmer and the passing game. The Cardinals finished 31st in rush offense last year, something that will need to improve if they are to contend with Seattle for the NFC West title. For those looking to bet on New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds, it is important to note that Vegas currently has 62% of the NFL picks for week 1 taking the Cards laying the points at home.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees returns for his 15th NFL season. He and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards last year with 4,952. Brees also threw for 33 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. He lost his number one target in TE Jimmy Graham in free agency, but has one of the most unheralded groups of receivers in the league. Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and Nick Toon give Brees ample targets in the passing game. The Saints beat Arizona, 31-7, the last time the two teams met back in 2013. Arians has the Cardinals on a different level now, which will make a New Orleans victory even tougher this time around. The week 1 season opener (Sunday, September 13th) between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals can be seen live on FOX at 4:05pm EST from the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Two of the nation’s most storied programs – the Texas Longhorns and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish – will square off in one of the kickoff classic games on Saturday, Sept. 5th, the first full weekend of the 2015 college football season. Both the Fighting Irish and Longhorns have faced their share of difficulties in recent history. Texas will begin its second season under the guidance of Charlie Strong, who had his share of success at Louisville. Notre Dame played for the national championship just three years ago but has fallen out of the national championship picture the past two seasons. A victory in week one will help the winner get off to a good start. That being said, college football predictions for week 1 are expecting the home team to pull off the victory with Texas vs Notre Dame odds favoring the Irish by 9-points against the Longhorns with an over/under betting total set at 54½. Irish head coach Brian Kelly had his squad prepared for another run to a title in 2014. Notre Dame was 6-0 before falling to then top-ranked Florida State, 31-27.
After rebounding to defeat Navy, the Fighting Irish did not win another regular season game finishing the season 8-5 after a win in the Music City Bowl. The quarterback situation at Notre Dame worked itself out when Everett Golson transferred to Florida State leaving Malik Zaire as the starter. Zaire led the Irish to the win over LSU in the bowl game at the end of last season. He will have plenty of weapons to work with in 2015. Junior wide receiver William Fuller returns after tying the school record for touchdown receptions in a season with 15 last year. There is plenty of talent at running back with the likes of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. The wild card may be senior C.J. Prosise (6-0, 220) who could see action at running back and one of the slot receivers. The key for the Irish to covering the point spread as favorites in Texas vs Notre Dame odds will be on defense where Kelly returns 10 starters to a unit that struggled the latter half of the season. Over the final seven weeks of the season, Notre Dame surrendered an average of 41.6 points per game. That will need to change if the Irish are to have any success this season and more importantly in week 1.
The Longhorns won a national title in 2005, but fell on hard times recently. Strong took over last year and after starting 2-4, rebounded to finish 6-7 overall, losing to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. The Texas offense appears to be in the hands of junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (6-4, 248) and junior running back Jonathan Gray finally is healthy. The Longhorn defense should continue to improve as it returns five starters from a year ago. As college football predictions for week 1 suggest, Texas will have its hands full with the Notre Dame playmakers to start the 2015 college football season. The week 1 season opener (Saturday, September 5th) between the Texas Longhorns and Notre Dame Fighting Irish can be seen live on NBC at 7:30pm EST from Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.
The North Carolina Tar Heels will square off with South Carolina Gamecocks once again to start the 2015 college football season. The two teams met in the season opener in 2013 with the Ole Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) and his Gamecocks coming away with a relatively easy 27-10 victory. Is this the year that head coach Larry Fedora and UNC start the season with a big victory? Perhaps, but college football picks for week 1 favor the Gamecocks to start the season with a win. UNC vs South Carolina odds have the Gamecocks listed as field goal (-3) favorites at home when they host the Tar Heels with a high scoring over/under total of 64. That being said, the Tar Heels will have plenty of weapons on offense including quarterback Marquise Williams who returns for his senior season.
All Williams did in 2014 was to throw for 3,068 and 21 touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 788 yards. Williams scored an additional 13 touchdowns on the ground. He is what makes the UNC offense go. Williams will have some weapons around him including junior wide receiver Ryan Switzer, the team’s leading returning receiver with 61 catches for 757 yards. Mack Hollins also returns after having grabbed 35 receptions for 613 yards and eight touchdowns. The problem for the Tar Heels in covering the spread as 3-point underdogs in UNC vs South Carolina odds is their defense. While Williams and the offense put up some hefty numbers, the defense yielded a whopping 39.0 points per game. The Tar Heels wound up 119th in scoring defense. That is going to have to improve if North Carolina is going to have a chance at major bowl. The Tar Heels have not beaten the Gamecocks in their last two meetings, but heading into week 1 of the 2015 college football season the South Carolina offense will be young.
Gone are QB Dylan Thompson and RB Mike Davis. Connor Mitch looks like the successor at QB while the running back position may be filled by committee. Junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper is an All-SEC performer who caught 69 balls for 1,136 yards last year. He will need to get going early if the Gamecocks are to have any success. After consecutive 11-win seasons led by powerful defenses, South Carolina was awful defensively last year. Spurrier went out and tabbed Jon Hoke, one of his former assistants, as the new defensive coordinator. The Gamecocks will need to improve on their national standing in total defense if they are to be successful. South Carolina finished 92nd last year. They could also work on their pass rush after finishing 2014 with just 14 sacks. The college football week 1 match-up (Thursday, September 3rd) between the North Carolina Tar Heels and South Carolina Gamecocks can be seen live on ESPN at 6:00pm EST from the Bank of America Stadium.
It has been the most miraculous turnaround of the past five years. The Arizona Cardinals hired Bruce Arians just two years ago and have 21 wins to their credit. The Cardinals went 11-5 last season, finished second to Seattle in the NFC West, and earned a wild card berth in the playoffs. A repeat performance is likely if Arizona can stay healthy. Even if they do not, it is possible that Arians and his staff can work the same magic they worked in 2014. Sportsbooks certainly think so with Vegas Super Bowl predictions cautiously listing the Cardinals as +2500 favorites to win the championship, +1400 to win the NFC Conference while NFL odds have Arizona at +400 to win the NFC East. Quarterback Carson Palmer, now 35 years old, is aging and coming off injuries that cut his season short. Arizona started the season 9-1 last year but after Palmer’s ACL tear faltered down the stretch with backup QB Drew Stanton.
The Arizona Cardinals won only two of their last six games. It didn’t help matters that starting RB Andre Ellington was lost for the season in December. Arizona averaged a paltry 81.8 yards per game. Regardless, hopes are high once again in terms of Super Bowl predictions as a healthy Palmer returns as does wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. While Fitzgerald (32) is no longer an elite receiver, he is still a very capable No. 1… if he has the QB that can get him the football. The former Pitt All-American was on track for another 1,000-yard receiving season before Palmer was lost for the year. The running game, as well as pass protection, gets a boost with the addition of Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati. The Cardinals also signed A.Q. Shipley to start at center and drafted 6-5, 307-pound offensive tackle D.J. Humphries out of Florida. Arizona also added Northern Iowa running back David Johnson (6-1, 225) to try and take some of the pressure off of Ellington.
Arizona did lose some key contributors to its fifth-ranked scoring defense. First and foremost was the loss of coordinator Todd Bowles who became the new head coach of the New York Jets. Linebacker Larry Foote retired, defensive end Darnell Dockett signed with San Francisco, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie is now a Jet. The Cardinals did add linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and LaMarr Woodley to offset the loss of Foote, but will count on DE Calais Campbell to become a force on the defensive line. Arizona generated just 35 sacks last year and will need to do better if they are to compete for the 2015 NFC West title. Campbell had seven and team-leader Alex Okafor had eight. Arians has done a masterful job of resurrecting the Cardinals to make a run in Super Bowl predictions. His best coaching job may need to come this season as the Cards have two dates with Seattle and must play the entire AFC North, arguably the toughest division in NFL odds.
Cardinals Update (9/9/15): Arizona are now +3300 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +1600 to win the NFC Conference and +500 to win the NFC West.
Just three short seasons ago, the Atlanta Falcons won 13 games and were headed to a Super Bowl before blowing a 17-point lead in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. Atlanta followed in 2013 with a rash of injuries to an offensive line and WR Julio Jones that left the team struggling to finish 4-12. The Falcons improved to a 6-10 a year ago, but it just wasn’t enough and head coach Mike Smith was sent packing. The Dan Quinn era begins in 2015 and the first order of business is fixing a defense that was dead last in the NFL last season. No team gave up more yards per game (398.2) than the Atlanta Falcons. The good thing is that Quinn was the architect of the Seattle defense that helped the Seahawks reach consecutive Super Bowls.
Although Quinn might have the resume, Super Bowl predictions for 2015 are not expecting him to help the Falcons reach the championship this year. NFL odds have listed Atlanta as +4000 longshots to lift the Lombardi trophy next February and +2200 to win the NFC Conference. That being said, the Falcons are favored to win the NFC South division (+200) over the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers. Quinn and his new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris went out in the free agent market and picked up a few Seahawks cast offs. Cornerback Philip Adams and defensive end O’Brien Schofield were signed along with names such of LB Justin Durant of Dallas and LB Brooks Reed of Houston. Quinn went out and got the edge rusher he was looking for in the first round of this year’s draft when he selected Clemson’s Vic Beasley.
On offense, Atlanta has one of the best group of skill players around. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a franchise player and when healthy, Julio Jones (104 receptions, 1,593 yards) is one of the league’s best receivers. Add in WR Roddy White and even Devin Hester and the Falcons have some weapons. The problem on offense is the running game. The Falcons averaged just 93.6 yards per game in 2014, 24th in the NFL. Steven Jackson was the team’s leading rusher with 707 yards, averaging just 3.7 yards a carry. He is gone and second-year pro Devonta Freeman or rookie Tevin Coleman will be the starter. Coleman rushed for over 2,000 yards last year at Indiana and whether its him or Freeman, they will run behind a line that will shift to a zone blocking scheme to take advantage of the team’s smaller faster offensive linemen.
Atlanta should have no problem winning the 2015 NFC South but Quinn and the Falcons will find out how far they must go to defy Super Bowl predictions and get back into the playoff picture when their season starts with three straight games against teams from the NFC East. After taking on Chip Kelly’s Eagles at home on the season opening Monday night, Atlanta travels to the New York Giants and Dallas in weeks two and three. After that stretch, though, the Falcons play just two more games against teams that had winning records in 2014 – Houston (9-7) in week four and Indianapolis (11-5) in week eleven.
Falcons Update (9/12/15): Atlanta are now +4000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2200 to win the NFC Conference and +200 to win the NFC South.
With three straight NASCAR Sprint Cup victories, Kyle Busch is slowly putting his stamp on the stock car racing record book and working his way into the Top 30 in this year’s Cup standings. He will have another chance to continue his epic run this Sunday at the Pocono Raceway. 2015 Windows 10 400 odds currently have Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick listed as NASCAR betting favorites at +450 followed by Jimmie Johnson (+700), Dale Earnhardt Jr (+800) and Brad Keselowski (+850). The younger Busch brother, older sibling Kurt (+1000) is also in the field, has actually won four of the last five races on the Sprint Cup circuit. It is an incredible feat considering the tracks on which he has won. Last week’s win at the Brickyard was on the 2.5-mile track at Indianapolis. He won on a one-mile short track, a 1.5-mile track in Kentucky, and a road course in California.
Pocono Raceway presents yet another look with a tri-oval instead of the more common four corner oval. If he is to do it again, Busch will have to overcome last year’s champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr, who won both races at Pocono last season. Busch will also face heat from Martin Truex Jr (+900) who recovered from his slump with a fourth place finish last week. Denny Hamlin (+1200) is also among the NASCAR betting favorites in 2015 Windows 10 400 odds and predicted to run well as he has won at Pocono four times. Granted, he has not won here in five years, but Hamlin has run very well at the Pocono Raceway in his career. Jeff Gordon (+1400) finished a disappointing 42nd in his last run at the Brickyard last week. Gordon will still likely make the Chase as he sits in 11th place in the current standings, just one spot behind Hamlin.
Second place Joey Logano (+900) has just one win this season – the opener in Daytona back in February. He has had great success at Pocono and has finished third and fourth in his last two races there. Kevin Harvick continues to lead the Cup standings, but his points lead is dwindling and he has never won at Pocono. He could use another win to pad his lead heading into the Chase. Jimmie Johnson sits in fourth place 102 points behind Harvick. Pocono Raceway has been one of Johnson’s best during his career. He has three wins and 18 Top 10 finishes in 27 starts. Brad Keselowski is clinging to sixth place but hasn’t done much lately. Matt Kenseth (+1000) sits right behind him in the standings. Kasey Kahne (+2500), who does not have a win this season, and Carl Edwards (+1200) are two racers who could be profitable options in 2015 Windows 10 400 odds this Sunday.
John Fox takes over for the Chicago Bears after Marc Trestman regressed from 8-8 to 5-11 last year. Fox won four AFC West titles in a row and took the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII but didn’t have the kind of postseason success that the Mile High fans were looking for. Hall of Fame QB John Elway, now the Broncos team president, decided it was time for Fox to go. The former Denver coach will inherit a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. Fox also gets quarterback Jay Cutler, who will now play for his fifth offensive coordinator in seven years in Chicago. Adam Gase, who worked for Fox in Denver, now has the task of helping Cutler reach his potential. At the very least, Gase will make sure that Cutler does not repeat 2014, a season where Cutler led the NFL in turnovers with 24. Eighteen of those turnovers were by interception. That has to change if Chicago is to have any success.
While the front office might have high hopes for Cutler, sportsbooks in Vegas do not. The Chicago Bears are listed as +5000 longshots in Super Bowl predictions to hoist the Lombardi trophy, +2800 to claim the NFC Conference title and +1200 in NFL odds to win the NFC North division. New general manager Ryan Pace was busy in the offseason acquiring the talent for Fox and his staff. One of his first moves was getting rid of the cancerous Brandon Marshall. The Bear drafted wide receiver Kevin White (6-3, 215) out of West Virginia to replace Marshall, who is now a New York Jet. The Bears also signed free agent Eddie Royal. Chicago has the offensive weapons to be very good. Matt Forte is still one of the league’s best running backs. He became only the second player in the history of the NFL to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100-plus passes in a single season.
Alshon Jeffrey (85 receptions) is a capable wide receiver as is tight end Martellus Bennett (90 receptions). Fox and his defensive staff prefer a 3-4 set but will use more a hybrid system since the Bears roster is geared for the 4-3. Defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald were signed in the offseason to help with the transition. Chicago also picked up linebackers Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho as well as safety Antrel Rolle. The defense will have to improve since the Bears will face both Detroit and Green Bay, two of the better offenses in the 2015 NFC North, twice each this season. Which is why Super Bowl predictions aren't expecting the 2015 Bears to have the type of season that fans in Chicago are hoping for. Perhaps a safer wager would be the regular season win total as NFL odds currently have the Bears listed at 7 UNDER (-150).
Bears Update (9/8/15): Chicago are now +7500 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +4000 to win the NFC Conference and +1800 to win the NFC North.
With LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers respectively, it appeared that the NBA free agency market had dried up. That is simply not true however as there are several quality players that still remain who could make a difference next season for numerous teams. James was never leaving Cleveland, but Jordan appeared to be headed for the Dallas Mavericks before signing a four-year, $88 million deal to stay with the Clippers, the team that drafted him in 2008. Jordan, who led the league in rebounding last season, is also the current NBA leader in consecutive games played. As such, 2016 NBA championship odds favor the Cavs at 11/4 to win the title while the Clippers have jumped up to 10/1.
There are several big men remaining on the free agent market including 6-11 Enes Kanter, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season right at the trade deadline. Kanter, the third pick in the 2011 draft, averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds per game with the Thunder. Teams looking for a solid scoring big man could benefit from signing Kanter who appears to be moving into his prime. Nine-year veteran Josh Smith is still looking for a team that might benefit from his versatility. The 6-9 Smith finished last season with the Houston Rockets where he averaged 12 points a game. He is athletic enough to defend small forwards and quick and powerful enough to take on the games best power forwards. With Jordan staying in Los Angeles, Smith may end up with the Sacramento Kings or stay home in Houston.
J.R. Smith spurned a $6.4 million option on his contract in Cleveland to test NBA free agency. He has made it known that he is looking for a three-year deal. Smith is a quality small forward who averaged nearly 13 points a game after being traded to Cavs last year. Cleveland is probably the best fit for Smith and gives the veteran a shot at an NBA title. Working out a contract is the sticking point. Other quality big men still remaining include Kevin Seraphin and Carlos Boozer. The 6-9 Seraphin is looking for an opportunity to play more and a little more than the $3.89 million he made last season. It’s a lot to ask for a player who has started a total of 31 games in his five NBA seasons. Boozer may end up with the Dallas Mavericks or Toronto Raptors. The Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are also interested in the 33-year-old veteran.
Sprint Cup points’ leader Kevin Harvick is a 5/1 favorite in NASCAR Quaker State 400 odds to capture his third win of the season this Saturday at the Kentucky Speedway. The 1.5-mile track is one of the most difficult on the circuit, but Harvick has dominated races on such tracks this season. Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, also has back-to-back top 10 finishes at Kentucky Speedway and another victory would certainly help his Chase seeding. The defending champion at Kentucky, Brad Keselowski (10/1), has won twice here and is poised to do it a third time. In four starts here, the Joe Gibbs Racing team member has the two victories plus two other top 10 finishes. He also holds the race record at 145.607 mph which he recorded in 2012.
Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway with Keselowski’s two wins plus teammates Matt Kenseth (10/1) and Kyle Busch (10/1), who each have a victory. All three racers could find themselves with a victory Saturday night. Joey Logano, who is listed as a 17/2 favorite in Quaker State 400 odds, has just one win thus far this season and would like to repeat last year. After finishing ninth at Kentucky last year, Logano reeled off four more wins to finish with five for the 2014 season. With 581 points, Logano is in fourth place, 75 points out of first place. The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, are no strangers to the Kentucky Speedway and both have performed admirably here. Kyle has a win and Kurt, already locked into the Chase, has two top 10 finishes in four starts on the 1.5-mile track. Both brothers navigate the track well and older brother Kurt would love a win to help his seeding come Chase time.
In the wild finish last week at Daytona, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15/2) who made it through the rain and a huge wreck to claim his second win of the season. His win coupled with the horrible performance of Martin Truex Jr. (12/1) moved Earnhardt Jr. up to second place in the latest Cup standings. Truex Jr. has not fared well in his last two starts. The only track that Jeff Gordon (10/1) has never claimed a victory on is…yes, Kentucky. The NASCAR veteran, who will retire at the end of this season, has his share of victories, but never one at Kentucky Speedway. He will get his last chance for a win there on Saturday. Other drivers that could be profitable options to bet on Quaker State 400 odds are Jimmie Johnson (11/2), Denny Hamlin (12/1), Kasey Kahne (15/1) and Carl Edwards (20/1).
World No. 1 and top-seeded Novak Djokovic has yet to be challenged and is on his way to a second consecutive Wimbledon men’s singles final having won his first three matches in straight sets. He will face 14th seed Kevin Anderson in the fourth round on Monday. Djokovic, who also won in 2011 with a victory over Rafael Nadal and is favored in tennis betting odds to win the 2015 title, could be on a collision course for a second straight final with second seed Roger Federer. The Swiss star, who has won Wimbledon seven times, was taken to a fourth set by his third round opponent Sam Groth. Federer will face Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round and could take on sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who is no slouch, in the quarterfinals.
Home favorite Andy Murray did drop a set to his third-round opponent Andreas Seppi but has not really been challenged thus far in the tournament. Murray looks to have the easiest path to the semifinals where he would likely have to face Djokovic. Murray gets Ivo Karlovic in the fourth round on Monday. With Stan Wawrinka still remaining in the tournament, all four of the top men’s seeds have advanced to the fourth round. Wawrinka, who won the French Open last month, takes on Belgian David Goffin for the right to advance to the quarterfinals. Wawrinka is known as a better clay court player but has yet to lose a set on the grass at Wimbledon.
Djokovic will be hard to beat. He won this year’s Australian Open and lost to Wawrinka in the final of the French Open. He has been ranked No. 1 in the world for 153 consecutive weeks. Djokovic has won a total of eight Grand Slam events in his career and is only the sixth player in history to win at least three Grand Slam events in a calendar year. The top four seeds will all be in action on Monday, July 6. The men’s semifinals will be played on Friday, July 10 and the final is set for Sunday, July 12.